Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trials By Fire: Whereby Two Game Demos are Arbitrarily Judged and One is Declared the Victor

Today, we are truly excited to bring you the first of what will hopefully be many articles by friend of the site D.Bethel.  Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you D. Bethel's Trials by Fire!  We really hope you enjoy it!

#001 : Fantasy (Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die!)

The highest honor a game receives has nothing to do with sales, creators, preorder exclusives, or platform exclusivity.  Thinking like that is myopic and ignores the much more important, abstract avenues of thought and discourse.  A game reaches cultural sublimity when the title becomes an adjective, a shorthand among gamers where the mere mention of the title elicits a singular, shared definition within the community.  Especially in today’s climate, where bandwagon-hopping game development has become the industry’s favorite move during a floundering economy, gamers need easy points of reference in order to effectively complain––or give a backhanded compliment––to a game that comes down the pipeline.  How many Call of Duty ripoffs have floated past?  How often was gameplay described as being God of War-like?  There are also industry benchmarks, where even the titles are reduced to single words (for better or for worse): Mario, Sonic, Zelda.  These designations aren’t arbitrary; in fact, this trend happens for a simple reason: no other game can describe it.  However, an innate conflict is created. If a game can be described in terms of another, then the reactive consensus usually condemns the game as being bad (haters gotta hate, even when a derivative game is good, re: X-Men Origins: Wolverine).  This paradox lies at the heart of this week’s Trials By Fire collection––two fantasy-based demos comprised of Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die!

If you can get past slaughtering adorable hordes, you'll love it.
Despite being the most robust demo of the bunch, Trendy Entertainment’s Dungeon Defenders can only really be explained by the games it echoes.  It’s bright visuals, isometric point of view, and wide-yet-squat world design owe a lot to the likes of World of Warcraft and Torchlight.  Only two (of four) character classes are available for trial play––the Mage Apprentice and the Squire––and although they match the overall aesthetic, they have as clear an antecedent as the world through which they slowly waddle.  The Apprentice is a straight take of the Black Mage from Final Fantasy (I won’t dignify this game with a “1” because that’s its goddam title), the design which directly inspired Final Fantasy IX’s Vivi.  The Squire doesn’t fare any better, since it’s clear the designers stuck a mouth on the helmet of a Castle Crasher sprite and went home.  This light-hearted design is the crux of the demo’s problem because it spoke to a tone that wasn’t upheld through to the gameplay.  It is merely an attractive sheen on an otherwise straight fantasy theme, a collection of ideas that never quite meshes together to create an unique entity.

Protect the shiny thing at all costs.
 The Dungeon Defenders demo is presented as a fantasy-based tower defense game through which you sluggishly run (an apt description of the entire demo) your character around dropping myriad defenses before duking it out with the horde of orcs (of course) that aims to beat your gigantic, blue crystal to pieces.  Since Rampart I haven’t given any attention to a tower defense game (with a short stopover in Brutal Legend––which was excellent except for the tower defense stuff) and Dungeon Defenders’ general schizophrenia did nothing to kindle any further interest.

Carnage was never more fun.
In contrast, the also tower defense-styled Orcs Must Die!, by fledgling developer Robot Entertainment, succeeds everywhere Dungeon Defenders fails.  Like Dungeon Defenders, your character must set up traps and defenses against the oncoming orcish rabble in order to protect a blue-hued glowing thing, but what Dungeon Defenders made feel like a chore, Orcs Must Die! turns into a thrilling and fun game of mouse trap, but instead of just watching from overhead, you get to run through the pandemonium, slaying to your heart’s content amidst the carnage of your traps.

Normally, you want to point the other way.
All the elements of this demo work together to create a singular, unique experience, but it’s especially the main character (only referred to as the War Mage) that brings the game to life.  He’s prominently and comically presented, always raising a knowing eyebrow above his Bruce Campbell chin, establishing a tone that never wavers throughout the demo, something Dungeon Defenders can’t pull together.  For starters, the animation is fluid and fun, and that describes everything else about this demo as well.  It is an experience wholly, well, Orcs Must Die!

Describing any game in the terms of others shouldn’t automatically condemn it.  Perhaps we sometimes use adjectival games to describe new releases because it’s obvious that they should be part of the pantheon.  Perhaps Orcs Must Die! is like God of War because it’s over the top, not because it plays anything like it.  It is also like Brutal Legend in terms of originality of character and humor, but that is also a good thing.  Is wrong to say Orcs Must Die! reminds me of Call of Duty because it, too, has tight controls and fast-paced gameplay?  Therein lies the difference between Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die!, the former is described using other games because it is a sloppy patchwork of others’ ideas.  The latter is described to explain the feeling it gives you and to get you excited to try it for yourself.  So, please, download the Orcs Must Die! demo, I promise you’ll have a Blaster Master time.

The Victor:     Orcs Must Die!

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  1. Oh wow, this is great! Thanks Sire Bethel!

  2. No, no. Thank you, guys. I'm glad you like it.

  3. Goddamn, after an intro image like that, there's a lot to live up to!

  4. Chris and I will have to work together to create some sort of respectable banner image. The layout, however, is awesome.